I think there are two schools of thought when it comes to winning the NFC North, or any division for that matter. One, injuries always play an important factor in any team's success, and two, scheduling.
The NFC North lucked out this year. One, they play each other twice, so that in and of itself is an easy schedule, and two, their matchups just happen to have them facing teams which, last year, were not very good.
But I caution: Be careful what you wish for.
Based on each team's draft, I would have to give the advantage to the Bears. Just like last year you would have to give the edge to the Vikings (Jared Allen). Cutler is the equivalent of a first round draft choice who immediately impacts your team.
Both teams have been fortunate enough to draft very good running backs in consecutive years (Peterson, Vikings, 2007 and Forte, Bears, 2008), and both appear to have solid defenses.
Still, there is a unique change of circumstances that has both cities' mirroring needs.
For instance, Minnesota needs a QB to throw to a pretty talented team of receivers. Conversely, Cutler has a converted DB as his primary target, and what puzzles me is why the Bears have not attempted to sign Torry Holt.
Hypothetically, if the Vikings had traded for Cutler, I don't think there would be any doubt that you would have to place the Vikings up there with the Giants and the Eagles, who I believe are the two teams in the NFC that are bonified playoff teams.
Of course, somebody has to win the NFC West and South, but I am focusing on power teams that seem to be there year after year.
Okay, without further gabbing, here are my picks for NFC North:
They have three-game stretches in the middle and at the end that could give them problems going 12-4. However, if Minnesota gets mired in a QB controversy, or revolving starters, they could be in trouble and hand the division over to the Bears.
Cutler makes a difference, but their defense needs shoring up and they don't have enough offensive targets yet.
Green Bay, 9-7
Last year proved there were more problems in Green Bay than just a QB situation. Rodgers acquitted himself nicely and is an excellent QB, but they have issues on defense, on the offensive line, and in RB depth—too many needs to make a solid push for the division.
More like the Cubs this decade. Detroit needs to build this team from the inside out, meaning D-Line and O-Line. If they get into the "please the fan" mode they will go after big names and ultimately bad choices.
Detroit, listen to me, take Smith with the first pick and the best defensive player on the board at 20. Most likely you will be drafting top five again next year and you can draft a McCoy, Tebow, Bradford, or a plethora of QBs that will be coming out next year. Make this a three to four year project.
Band Aids don't work over the long run. Then again, the Lions are owned by a car company, which may explain their mire in mediocrity. I am being kind here.